History buffs and tree lovers alike won't want to miss a sunny seaside walk down Banyan Drive along Hilo's famous Waiakea Peninsula during their visit to Hawai'i Island's "Big City".
That's because the street is lined with the massive, ancient and strangely intriguing trees called Banyans, planted nearly a century ago by movie stars, politicians, sports heroes, religious leaders, adventurers and native Hawaiians of the era. The trees were sown as saplings after completion of the looping road in the mid-1930s, following a visit to the island from President Franklin Roosevelt. Some of the trees were lost when a string of massive tsunamis struck the peninsula in mid-20th century causing widespread damage and erosion.
Today, the 50 surviving trees tower over passersby, their intricate weaves of aerial roots sprouting out of the ground around the main trunks and twisting, writhing and reaching for the crowded sunlight. The banyans' sheer height and width are astonishing - some trees found along the boulevard have crevices in the main trunk that could serve as a hiding place for a full grown human. The banyans' branches don't grow straight out from the trunk, but tangle together in knots of mind-boggling complexity, sometimes forming a solid canopy of green where it's impossible to tell where one of the giants starts and another one ends.
Many of the trees planted by more notable celebrities have wooden placards set in front of them etched with their namesakes. World-famous people like aviator Amelia Earhart, President Richard Nixon, baseball legend George Herman "Babe" Ruth and trumpeter Louis Armstrong all either planted banyans along the scenic loop or had trees planted in their honor. Babe Ruth's giant banyan is possibly the most famous, found in its prominent place in front of the Grand Naniloa Hotel - arguably Hilo's most luxurious high-rise, oceanfront hotel.
This makes Banyan Drive truly a walk through the history books, as joggers and cyclists casually cruise by spots where, almost a century ago, larger-than-life names planted tiny trees on an island that had to be reached by steamship journey.
For art aficionados, the small studio known as Banyan Gallery can be found right along the main thoroughfare, and is a great place to pick up Hawaii souvenirs, jewelry, and even high-end fine art pieces made by the island's myriad local talent.
Walking is the best way to experience the beauty and history of Banyan Drive, but there is a stand of rental e-bikes opposite the corner of Lihiwai Street for those wanting to cover more ground, or those in Hilo on a time-crunch. There's even a bike path that connects the quiet tree-lined drive of parks, hotels and restaurants with downtown Hilo and its famous Bayfront of windswept, colorful shops.
Other hotels along the drive include the Hilo Bay Hotel, the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and the Hilo Reeds Bay Hotel. Beloved local restaurants like the Coconut Grill, Ponds Hilo and Verna's Drive-In can be found past the hotels where Banyan Drive meets back up with Kamehameha Avenue. Meanwhile, Hilo Bay Cafe and the world-famous Suisan Fish Market can be found on the other side of the drive, right across the street from the beautiful Liliuokalani Gardens, which is covered in-depth in a separate article, as is the nearby Coconut Island, or "Moku Ola".
Mahalo nui loa to Stefan Verbano, Content Blog Writer for Kona Wedding Officiant® - Hawaii 101 - Things to Do On Hawaii Big Island - www.konaweddingofficiant.com/blog
Aloha - Deanna - Kona Wedding Officiant, Licensed Minister and Marriage Officiant.
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